Couple working to catch Autism early - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Couple working to catch Autism early

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(02/20/13) - A husband and wife team are combining their brain power in hopes of catching Autism early enough to make a real difference in kids' lives.

The couple is considered among the top Autism researchers.  What they are working on now has the potential to affect millions of lives.

One in 88 children will be diagnosed with Autism, but the earlier that diagnosis comes, the better chance of an even happier life for those kids.

Luca was just 18 months old when his mom noticed something was just not right, "repetitive motions and, you know, getting frustrated."

He was diagnosed with Autism. The husband and wife team of Dr. Eric Courchesne and Dr. Karen Pierce are working hard to help kids like Luca.

"What we discovered recently is that the child with autism has 67 percent more brain cells," Courchesne says.

Those cells are in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain important for social, emotional, and language functions. The doctor believes something happens in the second trimester when brain cells are being formed. Another issue, the CDC says the average age of diagnosis is four.
"We know that that's really too late."

That's why Dr. Pierce is attacking the problem two ways, "I developed this eye tracking test."

Babies watch a one minute movie. On one side of the screen, kids are dancing - on the other side, moving geometric shapes.  

"And they will fixate on that and they won't look at the social images and when a baby does that, so far, that's been 99 percent accurate that child is actually going to be on the spectrum," Pierce says.

Dr. Pierce is also using imaging to show abnormalities in children's brains. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, and a better chance kids like Luca have a normal life.

Dr. Pierce was in the running in 2012 for Time Magazine's most influential people for her work in the field of diagnosing Autism. She says the goal of the team's research is to discover an Autism test that could give a diagnosis at birth.

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